Author Archives: diananaiad

Diana Gu: Topic 2

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I partially agree with Ausubel that crises of government are partly to blame for failures to mitigate climate change and is definitely more to blame than failures of science and technology. I would even argue that reliance on science and technology to ‘fix’ climate change would be a mere band aid on an overall deeply embedded cultural and moral issue that is worsened by broken, weak, or misguided governments that fail to prioritize the environment and thus climate change in their policies and international dialogues. The example of the light-water nuclear reactors is one of many examples of how our reliance and blind following of the newest and readily available methods and approaches to obtaining what we envision as progressive resources or ways of living has distracted us from the most fundamental answer or rather moral question we must ask ourselves and pursue—how do we live better? Instead of “how can we have more?” Failures of our government to realize long-term measures to protect the environment and our climate emphasizes our deepest weaknesses as a society. The average student lives in a country where environmental education is not required by the state/government. Basic understanding of ecology and thermodynamics is rarely reached—no wonder our governments cannot find the motivation to address these problems when our education system is bereft of environmental value and attempts to create workers and money-makers instead of global, empathetic, and informed citizens. Thus, I would disagree that resolutions for climate would not ‘fit’ into a dichotomy of government and technology but rather is a problem between culture and education. 

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Prompt 1: Week 10- Homo Economicus

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I think it’s basically impossible for us to maintain the standards of living of developed nations while simultaneously reducing consumption at almost any level, let alone a sustainable one. We are at such a state that the ballooning of our resource use and thus impacts on the environment that a severe reduction would be required in combination with a serious lifestyle change and paradigm shift. It would be completely unrealistic and unjust to expect a reduction in consumption for most developing nations when their impacts are barely comparable to that of developed nations (with some exceptions of course).

 

At first I was skeptical of collaborative consumption—after all collective action is incredibly difficult to achieve. However, these systems that Rachel Botsman suggests such as redistribution markets (trading existing goods so as to not let products go to waste, which people already do on a small scale), collaborative live styles (sharing wealth, skills, and time—this one seems a bit more difficult to achieve—especially welath), and product-service system (receiving benefits of a product without having to own it) which would significantly help reduce e-waste and unnecessary consumption.

 

I like that it incorporates behaviors and systems we already have in place and motivations that appeal to us (i.e. less costs) and harnesses our instinct to share which is albeit and altruistic assumption. It reminds me of what Cohen says in “Why Not Socialism?”—we just need a way to harness the power of altruism just like how capitalism harnesses the power of self-interest. Which is still really, really difficult, but this approach seems to be a step in the right direction. A system like this that encourages social networking, self-organiation, and sharing can only be good. We are becoming more and more disconnected from the idea of a physical community because of the disconnect that technology creates that allows us to find other means of social interaction and access to information. Collaborative consumption would not only decrease the need for excessive technology use and consumption, it would help us see and utilize humanity’s interdependence which is necessary to realize a sustainable future. 

Diana Gu: Permaculture & Ethics

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I felt that Joe’s interpretation of intrinsic value was a bit off since he described the value of a flower having intrinsic value because he finds it beautiful. In actuality, in the realm of environmental ethics and how we ascribe value, this kind of description would imply an instrumental value. Intrinsic value describes something that has value in itself– something that would have value regardless if there were an individual there to value it; something that has value just by existing. Regardless, it reminded me of how I felt when trying to engage in a philosophical or ethical conversations with one of my many philosophizing peers before I had taken political philosophy or this course. Without knowing the language and vocabulary and having a mutual understanding of basic definitions of key ethical/philosophical terms, it’s very difficult to have a meaningful conversation– otherwise you might end up arguing about facts (definitions). It made me appreciate the opportunities I’ve had to learn more about this field that is otherwise really difficult to engage in.

Anyway, I felt that the goals of permaculture were very commendable in taking into account mimicry of natural processes and caring for the land in a way that was sustainable and not exploitative necessarily. However, I was kind of skeptical at his emphasis on the instrumental aspect of permaculture without much mention of how to incorporate or meet the needs of the surrounding biota. He pressed upon the importance of soil and its benefits to carbon sequestration but I wish he could have spoke more on the benefits of permaculture on local organisms and how to reduce the impact of the disturbance that comes along with altering a landscape. I think as humans we have a tendency to pat ourselves on the back for learning things from nature and incorporating its processes and forget that we have a responsibility to use that knowledge in non-exploitive ways that account for our anthropogenic impacts.

This lecture reminded me a little bit of the reading about Lynn White and her narrative of the European plow. I thought this example really embodied literally and symbolically the evolving relationship between human and technology. The shift from subsistence farming to farming to acquire the resources to have more oxen, to have a bigger plow altered attitudes towards farming and nature as a whole. Permaculture seems to be an evolution and a move towards creating an agricultural landscape that isn’t always changing, where fruit aren’t ripped from the ground every few months to make space for new ones, and soil and biota can thrive with minimal disturbance to the land. This contrasts greatly with the values and goals of the story that White depicts though the same attitudes are still quite prevalent in most large-scale agriculture-based societies.

Week 5 Prompt 3: Justice

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Environmental injustices are extremely prevalent in not just the US, but the entire world. If we are not relegating our waste sites and pollution to poorer areas of our cities, we’re exporting toxicities to far worse-off developing countries– out of sight, out of mind. It makes sense from a purely economic and self-serving standpoint: if one can remove and store an unwanted, dangerous product that is otherwise very expensive and inconvenient to dispose of safely in a far more cheaper and efficient manner, we’ll do it. Our society runs on two pervading values: money and efficiency. So we relegate our poorest in areas of our city where there are statistically less food availability, green spaces, and an abundance of toxicities, pollution, and waste. It is far easier to get away with putting dangerous wastes in populations that have statistically lower education, lower political involvement, located in an where people that do have more political clout do not visit often (for aforementioned reasons, less green space, food, etc.).

One particularly good example of this is e-waste. For me, nothing embodies the concept of uninhibited/senseless consumerism and materialism than the concept of planned obsolescence and the exportation of e-waste. Planned obsolescence is the concept of planning for electronics to go ‘obsolete’ (this can mean it will wear down faster or will lack a subtle capabilities a newer version of the product will have) in time for a newer ‘better’ version of the product to be sold in its place. Thus, this generates a ton of electronics that won’t be used (waste) and not often recycled. These electronics are sent to other countries that will break down the parts to be sold or re-used. This often requires a dangerous chemical bath for the process, which is quite prevalent in China which is where a majority of e-waste is received. This causes a lot of environmental issues as you can imagine as well as health issues—some of which are probably not very easily measurable and the effects may take years to realize.

Ideally, there would be a law that would make this process illegal or at least really, really, really expensive, crippling taxes on companies that decide to export their e-waste and a requirement that whoever they sell it to must follow strict environmental and health guidelines that ensures that the equipment and the workers are treated safely and fairly (like fair trade but instead of chocolate it’s for your disassembled iPhone parts). This kind of thing just frustrates me to no end—taking something that’s already an infuriating and unnecessary trend like planned obsolescence that imprints us with materialism and then exacerbating it by burdening the most vulnerable of our population with completely avoidable, unnecessary, dangerous products.

Week 2, Prompt 3: Romanticism and Utilitarianism

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When I think of romanticism I usually think of art and literature movements rather than any sort of influence on environmentalism. Throughout human consciousness our relationship with nature has changed immensely and this is evident and documented in our art, mythologies, and stories. For example, for many cultures the forest was seen as something to be feared and avoided, especially at night and usually housing strange and mystical creatures. This has evolved to forests being seen as a place where personal transformation can take place, a place that challenges the individual, a place to seek solitude and empowerment. During periods of colonialism, especially in North America, this view changed to the forest being seen as something to be overpowered and manipulated, cleared, in order to create space for humans—dominance over the environment as a means to an end: progress. Our relationship with the environment has created many interesting dichotomies and symbolism that mirror our need to understand and revere natural phenomenon.

 Now in a time where we largely believe the environment is something that is mostly understood, at least scientifically. We have moved towards a more utilitarian and fact/experience-based perspective in interpreting the world around us and this is evident in the paradigms that have spawned from our need to continuously reinterpret our relationships and understandings of our world. Whether or not we can bridge lofty and idealistic views to those more grounded in utilitarianism is an interesting question but it is my belief that there isn’t a need or reason to choose one or the other. Both ways of interpreting and understanding the environment from a reverent standpoint, as well as an objective one, have existed side by side more or less, just at different intensities. If we focused solely from a utilitarian approach, we would only go about protecting the earth so long as it was still able to provide to us what we wanted to gain from it which would vary person to person. If romanticism were more strictly in place ideas of dominating nature and altering it would be rejected; but without romanticism our relationship with the environment would lose some of its intrinsic value as inherently beautiful, reverent, and unique entities outside from their utility to human beings. I don’t think either perspective should or can be separated. Romantic notions of natural phenomena is something I believe will remain in our collective unconscious, and utilitarianism is a mode that has enabled our species to thrive.